I want to return to my University days for a moment. One aspect of my degree was the ‘methodology’ of history. My preference was always for the ‘narrative’ aspect of history. I remember being set a task using comparative case studies – not involving Edward II or indeed any king. But it shaped my interpretation of Edward II being murdered – because isn’t that what happens to all deposed monarchs? Any usurper would not keep the former king alive, as they would surely be a continual threat to them. The cases of Richard II and Edward V convinced me that Edward II would have to have been disposed of – murdered on the orders of Isabella and Mortimer. It was Kathryn that got me to re-asses this – because the cases are not the same at all. Edward II was deposed before Richard II and Edward V, and there was no real precedent for deposing kings and what should happen to them in his case study. Edward II was deposed to make way for his son, Edward III, by his mother and Mortimer – it was not his idea or actions which deposed his father, so he is not a usurper in the sense that Henry IV was. He was very much the ‘puppet’ of them, being only 15. Mortimer’s hold, in particular, was tenuous, for Edward III would surely seek to rule on his own, and Mortimer could find himself in real danger, especially if the story that he had had the king’s father ‘murdered’ became known. Would it therefore make sense to ‘fake’ the former king’s death from natural causes, and keep him a prisoner, and use him as a ‘force’ against his own son when he needed to?
Mortimer’s book is not about putting forward the ‘argument’ that Edward II did not die in 1327 – he uses facts to show that he did not. I’ve questioned Kathryn time and again about the points raised to prove Edward II was alive – and they always seemed to be ‘I’m not convinced’ or trying to find other meanings to challenge the evidence – like what on earth Lord Berkeley meant when he said he did not know Edward II was dead in 1330 – maybe the translation was wrong? Or maybe he didn’t know he had been murdered? Likewise the account of the Earl of Kent seeing his brother at Corfe Castle – surely it was an impostor set out to entrap Kent, who was known for his gullibility? And as for Edward III supposedly meeting his father in Cologne – well, that could have been an impostor trying his luck – after all, hadn’t there been people trying to impersonate either of the ‘little princes in the Tower’? Except that in Mortimer’s book, and in discussions with Kathryn, Lord Berkley’s words are a literal translation, Kent was not gullible and there were many other important men who supported his rebellion, and the ’impostor’ at Cologne seems to have had nothing to gain, was never punished and in fact was never referred to as an impostor.
Mortimer has written a stunning book in which he proves that Edward II was alive and did not die in Berkeley castle in 1327. The points I have mentioned are only a small part of the evidence – I haven’t, for example, even mentioned the Fieschi letter. I don’t want to post any ‘spoilers’ or replicate Ian Mortimer’s work in detail – but I advise any one with an interest in Edward II to read the book. The 2 chapters I enjoyed the most were ‘Twelve Angry Scholars’, in which Mortimer challenges his ‘peer reviewers’ most successfully and the chapter on ‘Edward III, His Father and the Fieschi’. His research into the Fieschi family and their connections with Edward II and Edward III is incredibly detailed and pieces together the movements of Edward II after 1327 and how he was able to do so. Also outstanding is his research of Edward III’s court accounts and his patronage of his father’s tomb at Gloucester – all makes sense and is proof.
No doubt Ian Mortimer has suffered by having his name bandied about with ‘conspiracy theorist historians’, which is very unfortunate, because in my opinion, he has shown there is a great deal of evidence that Edward II survived after 1327 – far more than the sole source that Edward II died at Berkeley of ‘natural causes’, namely Lord Berkeley. When you consider some of the flimsy books written about Richard III, and I’ll name the recent example of ‘Richard III and the murder in the Tower’, as one of the worst – full of, ‘suppose’, ‘what if’ etc – it would be a real shame if Ian Mortimer’s latest work isn’t given the respect it surely deserves.